Reduce Self-Harming in Adolescents with Mindfulness

Reduce Self-Harming in Adolescents with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“In order to end self-harm, one needs to change one’s whole relationship with oneself, and how one sees oneself. A good starting point is with one’s thoughts. Mindfulness keeps one fully grounded in the present … in the presence of the action of the present moment. Mindfulness helps one to observe and note thoughts, positive or negative, without feeling the need to act upon them.” – Ian Ellis-Jones


Self-injury is a disturbing phenomenon occurring worldwide, especially in developed countries, such as the U.S. and those in western Europe. Approximately two million cases are reported annually in the U.S. Each year, 1 in 5 females and 1 in 7 males engage in self-injury usually starting in the teen years. Frequently, untreated depression and other mental health challenges create an environment of despair that leads people to cope with these challenges in unhealthy ways. Nearly 50 percent of those who engage in self-injury have been sexually abused. Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a very serious mental illness that is estimated to affect 1.6% of the U.S. population. It involves unstable moods, behavior, and relationships, problems with regulating emotions and thoughts, impulsive and reckless behavior, and unstable relationships. About ¾ of BPD patients engage in self-injurious behaviors.


One of the few treatments that appears to be effective for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). It is targeted at changing the problem behaviors characteristic of BPD including self-injury. Behavior change is accomplished through focusing on changing the thoughts and emotions that precede problem behaviors, as well as by solving the problems faced by individuals that contribute to problematic thoughts, feelings and behaviors. In DBT five core skills are practiced; mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, the middle path, and interpersonal effectiveness. DBT reduces self-injurious behaviors in BPD patients.


In today’s Research News article “Cost-effectiveness of dialectical behaviour therapy vs. enhanced usual care in the treatment of adolescents with self-harm.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: ), Haga and colleagues recruited adolescents who had repeatedly harmed themselves and randomly assigned then to receive 19 once a week 1 hour sessions of either Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) or enhanced usual care. Enhanced usual care consisted of a combination of psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy tailored to treat suicidality and self-harm. They were measured before and after treatment and 1 year later for self-harm episodes and global functioning. The costs of treatment were also estimated.


They found that at the end of treatment the adolescents who received Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) had significantly fewer self-harm episodes and lower levels of suicide ideation and depression than those who received enhanced usual care. Importantly, a year later, the group that received DBT still had significantly fewer self-harm episodes. In addition, DBT did not cost more than the enhanced usual care program to implement.


These results are important and suggest that Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is an effective and cost-effective treatment for adolescents who harm themselves. This is particularly important as self-harm is often a predictor of eventual suicide. The reduction in suicidal ideation in these adolescents is an indication of this. Hence, DBT can reduce self-harm behaviors and reduce the suffering of these troubled adolescents.


So, reduce self-harming in adolescents with mindfulness.


dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, for treatment of children and adolescents. DBT, regarded as one of the few treatments that has shown success in combating self-injury behaviors, combines Buddhism’s mindfulness with cognitive behavior therapy in a program that teaches coping and communication skills.” – Paradigm Malibu


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Haga, E., Aas, E., Grøholt, B., Tørmoen, A. J., & Mehlum, L. (2018). Cost-effectiveness of dialectical behaviour therapy vs. enhanced usual care in the treatment of adolescents with self-harm. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, 12, 22.




Studies have shown that dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) is effective in reducing self-harm in adults and adolescents.


To evaluate the cost-effectiveness of DBT for adolescents (DBT-A) compared to enhanced usual care (EUC).


In a randomised study, 77 adolescents with repeated self-harm were allocated to 19 weeks of outpatient treatment, either DBT-A (n = 39) or EUC (n = 38). Cost-effective analyses, including estimation of incremental cost-effectiveness ratios, were conducted with self-harm and global functioning (CGAS) as health outcomes.


Using self-harm as effect outcome measure, the probability of DBT being cost-effective compared to EUC increased with increasing willingness to pay up to a ceiling of 99.5% (threshold of € 1400), while with CGAS as effect outcome measure, this ceiling was 94.9% (threshold of € 1600).


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